What Motivates You to Be Well? (and How to Motivate Your Students to Be Well)

How often do you get that student in your class who just does not want to move? That student who has every excuse in the book for not wanting to participate in physical activity? That student who is not interested in being physically active and who does not care about being well? Being well requires being motivated—being motivated to move, eat well, and take care of ourselves—and that motivation is difficult for some people to find.

Being well requires being motivated—being motivated to move, eat well, and take care of ourselves—and that motivation is difficult for some people to find.

So how do we define “wellness” for our students? Most describe it as the health of mind, body, and spirit and how these components interact to make someone well. Some even say that wellness is a multidimensional state of being, including the existence of positive health, which includes quality of life and well-being (Corbin and Pangrazi). Wellness can also be defined as “the state of being in good health” (Oxford Dictionary), which, in a holistic sense, translates to having a healthy mind, body, and spirit. In the balance of each of these elements, we are being well.

Since I teach exercise science, I often focus on the physical aspect of health and wellness. I talk with my students about how to care for the amazing bodies God has given us and how we can teach others to use them for God’s glory. We focus on muscles, bones, movements, exercise, muscle physiology, and other fun physical aspects of wellness. And having the privilege to teach at a Christian college has given me the added opportunity to make connections between physical and spiritual aspects of health and wellness. My college believes that educating the whole person is important, and that includes nurturing and strengthening our whole selves for better service to God and God’s community. So my students and I make the connections of our bodies being the temples of God and how we can honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19–20). Just pause and think about your body as a temple where God lives every day. Wow! What a humbling experience for us as Christians. It’s an honor to make the promise we make to God when we commit our lives to Him. In my classes, we often talk about this amazing gift and how important it is to take care of it and to help others learn how to take care of it too.

Physical activity patterns are set in adolescence and often decline throughout the teen years, with a significant drop during the transition from high school to college

A significant part of taking care of our bodies is physical activity and movement. When one researches the physical activity patterns of the general public across their lifespans, one finds that college students are more obese and less active than high school students (Egli et al.; Pauline), and this is mostly because these students are either reducing or abandoning physical activity at some point before or during their college years (Pauline). A significant factor here is that physical activity patterns are set in adolescence and often decline throughout the teen years, with a significant drop during the transition from high school to college (Madonia et al.). I talk with my physical education teacher education (PETE) and exercise science (ES) students about the importance of making physical activity fun and achievable for everyone and how such activity helps people stick with physical activity throughout adolescence and into early adulthood. It is easy to be the P.E. teacher or personal trainer who works with the athletic kids because these students want to be there. But these are not the kids who are at risk for a decline in physical activity later in life. It is the kids who are a little less coordinated, who do not make many baskets, who cannot throw far, or who cannot run easily who are at risk. Their decline in activity is often because they did not feel encouraged or were not shown that physical activity can be fun and achievable. It was not until I began my dissertation research that I fully realized the important connections between the mental and physical aspects of wellness. And this brings us to motivation and physical activity.

This is an abridged version of this article. To read more, subscribe to the print edition of Christian Educators Journal.


Works Cited

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Benefits of Physical Activity.” September 2020. www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/.

Corbin, C. B., and R. P. Pangrazi. “Toward a Uniform Definition of Wellness: A Commentary.” President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, vol. 3, no. 15, 2001, pp. 3–10.

Deci, E.L., and R. M. Ryan. “The “What” and “Why” of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self-Determination of Behavior.” Psychological Inquiry, vol. 11, 2000, pp. 227–68.

Egli, T., H. W. Bland, B. F. Melton, and D. R. Czech. “Influence of Age, Sex, and Race on College Students’ Exercise Motivation of Physical Activity.” Journal of American College Health, vol. 59, no. 5, 2013, pp. 399–406.

Madonia, J. S., A. E. Cox, and M. L. Zahl. “The Role of High School Physical Activity Experience in College Students’ Physical Activity Motivation.” International Journal of Exercise Science, vol. 7, no. 2, 2014, pp. 98–109.

Oxford Dictionary. “Wellness.” www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/wellness?q=wellness.

Pauline, J. S. “Physical Activity Behaviors, Motivation, and Self-Efficacy among College Students.” College Student Journal, vol. 47, no. 1, 2013, pp. 64–74.

Ryan, R. M., & E. L. Deci. “Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being.” American Psychologist, vol. 55, no. 1, 2000, pp. 68–78.

Wang, C. J., W. C. Liu, Y. Sun, B. C. Lim, and N. D. Chatzisarantis. “Chinese Students’ Motivation in Physical Activity: Goal Profile Analysis Using Nicholl’s Achievement Goal Theory.” International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, vol. 8, no. 3, 2010, pp. 284–301.


Dr. Shari Jurgens is an associate professor of physical education, recreation, and kinesiology at Trinity Christian College. Her research focuses on motivations to be physically active in the college population and beyond. Her teaching focus is exercise science, and her passion is to make movement fun and successful for all because she believes that doing this at a young age is important for being motivated to move later in life.